Rep. Stephen Handy's May 5 guest commentary, "Columnist wrong on public lands issue," made several statements which deserve a response. In particular, he stated that the Legislature is trying to do what's best for the citizens of Utah and that they deserve our trust. However recent actions by the Legislature would seem to belie that statement. These include trying to pass a school voucher issue, trying to limit what the GRAMMA act covers, and recently, letting anyone obtain a concealed weapons permit without any background check whatsoever.
The main point of Mr. Handy's commentary is that the purpose of the Legislature's passing the bill to try and obtain part of existing federal lands within the state is to use the money that may be generated from such lands to put towards school funding. He states that this is the only way that we can adequately fund our schools and he goes on to say that we can't tax ourselves to get to parity. What he does not say is, how we are going to fund our schools if the federal government does not cede these lands back to the state? He also doesn't say what we are to do in the meantime, even if eventually we are to get these lands, as the school population continues to go up every year.
Finally, the notion that we can't tax ourselves enough to get to parity is an approach that the Legislature has not tried, even though surveys have shown that Utahns are willing to pay more in taxes if it helps the schools. What about eliminating the personal exemption for families with more than three children? What about raising our extraction fees, which are the lowest of all of our surrounding states? What about increasing the gas tax so that less money from the general fund goes to roads and instead, goes to schools?
What about going to a graduated state tax where the wealthy pay more? Until the Legislature gets serious about raising revenue for schools now, we are going to be last in the nation for a long time to come.